This is the first Jean Renoir Silent film I have watched and perhaps rightly so since it is generally regarded to be his best, besides being also his first major work. Overall, it is indeed a very assured and technically accomplished film which belies the fact that it was only Renoir’s sophomore effort. For fans of the director, it is full of interesting hints at future Renoir movies especially THE DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID (1946) and THE GOLDEN COACH (1952) – in its depiction of a lower class femme fatale madly desired by various aristocrats who disgrace themselves for her – but also THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939) – showing as it does in one sequence how the rowdy servants behave when their masters' backs are turned away from them – and FRENCH CANCAN (1955) – Nana is seen having a go at the scandalous dance at one point. Personally, I would say that the film makes for a respectable companion piece to G.W. Pabst’s PANDORA’S BOX (1928), Josef von Sternberg’s THE BLUE ANGEL (1930) and Max Ophuls’ LOLA MONTES (1955) in its vivid recreation of the sordid life of a courtesan. Having said all that, the film was a resounding critical and commercial failure at the time of its release – a “mad undertaking” as Renoir himself later referred to it in his memoirs which, not only personally cost him a fortune (he eventually eased the resulting financial burden by selling off some of his late father’s paintings), but almost made him give up the cinema for good! Stylistically, NANA is quite different from Renoir’s sound work and owes a particular debt to Erich von Stroheim’s FOOLISH WIVES (1922), a film Renoir greatly admired – and, on a personal note, one which I really ought to revisit presto (having owned the Kino DVD of it and the other von Stroheims for 4 years now). Anyway, NANA is certainly not without its flaws: a deliberate pace makes itself felt during the overly generous 130 minute running time with some sequences (the horse race around the mid-point in particular) going on too long. The overly mannered acting style on display is also hard to take at times – particularly that of Catherine Hessling’s Nana and Raymond Guerin-Catelain’s Georges Hugon (one of her various suitors)…although, technically, they are being their characters i.e. a bad actress (who takes to the courtesan lifestyle when she is booed off the stage) and an immature weakling, respectively. However, like Anna Magnani in THE GOLDEN COACH, Hessling (Renoir’s wife at the time, by the way) is just not attractive enough to be very convincing as “the epitome of elegance” (as another admirer describes her at one stage) who is able to enslave every man she meets. Other notables in the cast are “Dr. Caligari” himself, Werner Krauss (as Nana’s most fervent devotee, Count Muffat), Jean Angelo (as an initially skeptical but eventually tragic suitor of Nana’s) and future distinguished film director Claude Autant-Lara (billed as Claude Moore and also serving as art director here) as Muffat’s close friend but who is secretly enamored with the latter’s neglected wife! The print I watched – via Lionsgate’s “Jean Renoir 3-Disc Collector’s Edition” – is, for the most part, a lovingly restored and beautifully-tinted one which had been previously available only on French DVD. Being based on a classic of French literature (by Emile Zola, no less), it cannot help but having been brought to the screen several times and the two most notable film versions are Dorothy Arzner’s in 1934 (with Anna Sten and Lionel Atwill and which I own on VHS) and Christian-Jaque’s in 1955 (with Martine Carol and Charles Boyer, which I am not familiar with).
Drama / Romance
Drama / Romance
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When the vivacious and beautiful Nana bombs at the Théâtre des Variétés, she embarks on the life of a courtesan, using her allure and charisma to entice and pleasure men.
September 28, 2021